His name was Byron de la Beckwith, but his friends called him “Delay.” A descendant of Southern aristocracy, Byron de la Beckwith was born in Colusa, California in 1920. Delay was only 5 when his father died. The official cause of death was listed as “pneumonia and alcoholism.” After the funeral, Delay’s mother took him back home to Greenwood, Mississippi.
Delay’s mother was a Yerger, which meant she was a blue blood, descended from one of the South’s elite families. Susan Southworth Yerger was her given name. And in the glory days of the Confederacy, the Yergers moved only in the best social circles. Jefferson Davis’s wife was counted among the closest friends of the Yerger family.
s mother suffered from what were politely called mental ailments. She was hospitalized frequently. And in the end, when Delay was 12 years old, she died of lung cancer at age 47.
Delay moved in with his uncle, William Yerger, who occupied the family’s estate, which had seen better days and had had quite a few less good days since then. And so had Uncle William, who was a little off-center. He spent most of his time fishing for catfish. According to Time magazine, more often than not, the catfish ended up in a dresser drawer, which was where Uncle William liked to put them. The stench must have been abominable.
In 1942, Delay joined the U.S. Marine Corps and saw action as a machine gunner. When he was discharged in 1946, he was heavily decorated, including the Purple Heart. He got married to Mary Louise Williams, who was a Navy WAVE. They moved to Rhode Island for a while, then back to Mississippi, where Delay sold tobacco.
The marriage had its ups and downs – divorce, reconciliation and remarriage, then separation. Which meant Delay’s life resembled the family estate – it had seen better days. Reed Massengill, who was the nephew of Delay’s wife, later wrote a book called Portrait of a Racist. In it, Delay was described as a brutal and violent husband.
Somewhere in there, Delay joined the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. No one really knew why, but Delay was a die-hard white supremacist. Delay hated blacks, Jews and Roman Catholics. As Time magazine later reported, “He tried to inject racism into everything.” Delay composed and distributed racist pamphlets. He also took part in anti-integration rallies, where he did things like obstructing non-whites from using public toilet facilities.
At that time – from 1954 until the mid-1960s – the Klan was engaged in open warfare against the Civil Rights movement. The KKK not only bombed churches and homes, but also wreaked a series of ghastly murders. One of those murdered was Medgar Evers. As Leonard Zeskind wrote in Blood and Politics, “That same year  a Klan sniper assassinated Mississippi state NAACP leader Medgar Evers on the doorstep of his home.”
Delay was that Klan sniper.